(ESPAÑOL) Facing the likelihood of dramatically stepped-up deportations under a President Donald Trump, the Supreme Court justices sounded closely split Wednesday over whether the government can indefinitely jail immigrants with criminal convictions while they fight legal efforts to remove them from the country.
Trump, who made illegal immigration one of the platforms of his presidential campaign, has promised to deport as many as 3 million immigrants once he takes office, and the Supreme Court case involving a Los Angeles immigrant could give his administration greater leverage.
Citing a 1996 law that mandates the “detention of criminal aliens,” Obama administration lawyers urged the justices to give the government broad discretion in handling such matters.
The court’s conservative justices appeared inclined to reverse a 9th Circuit Court decision requiring immigration judges to give a bond hearing and consider possible release for noncitizens who have been jailed for more than six months as they fight their deportation.
Liberal justices sounded unsure as to whether a specific time limit can be upheld.
Acting Solicitor Gen. Ian Gershengorn urged the court to rule no hearings are required. He said Congress made a “categorical judgement” that there is a “real flight risk” if these “criminal aliens” are released. Therefore, he said, they can be held indefinitely until their claims are resolved.
Under the law, immigrants who are guilty of an “aggravated felony” are slated for mandatory deportation. However, those with minor offenses on their records can fight their deportation if they have a family and other ties to this country.
Immigration advocates argued that even non-citizens should benefit from the constitutional guarantees of due process.
The lead plaintiff in the case is Alejandro Rodriguez, who was brought to the U.S. as a baby and eventually obtained lawful status. Because of a drug possession and “joyriding” conviction as a teenager, he was slated for possible deportation and detained for more than three years as the case proceeded. He eventually won and was released.
Oddly enough, the government’s lawyer acknowledged that it is understood that bond hearings are given to immigrants who are detained for being in the country illegally. But the same rule does not extend to immigrants, here legally or illegally, who are taken into custody by immigration agents because of a criminal conviction.
More recently, the 9th Circuit Court and the 2nd Circuit Court in New York defined that period of detention as no more than six months. After that, the courts said, jailed immigrants are entitled to a bond hearing in which a judge can decide if they can be released, provided they present no danger and are not a flight risk.